Wednesday, May 27, 2009

E3: Enough Electronic Entertainment

Call me crazy, but I’m willing to bet more media ink will be spilled over the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) than Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court. The electronics expo has mushroomed in size over the years, growing from developer showcase to Geek Mecca. Developers and publishers pour PR capital into the event, sponsoring lavish booths festooned with gimmicks, goons and girls. Shutters chatter, Twitters tweet, thousands upon thousands of words are spilled, and the media loses its collective shit. You think the second coming of Christ sounds exciting? Wait until Kojima reveals his next project.

Presidential races receive less coverage than E3. How does a room full of sweaty nerds become a major media event? And is that a good thing?

Look, bloggers are a varied bunch – you either get knuckle-dragging barbarians, snark junkies or overeducated games-as-art snobs. Like it or not, they define videogame journalism. Those who play videogames are more likely to be tech-literate than your average PoliSci professor, and thus more likely to get their news online. Sites like Destructoid and Kotaku update several times an hour, providing your industry news junky with a steady flow into their veins. Electronic Gaming Monthly, god rest its soul, delivered an issue a month. The pros aren’t running the show, here.

With such an obsessive media base, it’s no wonder E3 has grown to its current girth. It’s like throwing chum to sharks. The past few years have shown how susceptible bloggers are to the charms of viral marketing and swag. I like a cheeky viral campaign as much as the next guy, but when it comes to writing up cheap trinkets, we might as well be Twittering the bowel movements of Gabe Newell. I mean, come on, what won’t we write about?

E3 isn’t just a chance for developers to demo their products. It’s materialistic maypole. Plenty of journalists would beg to disagree, and they’d be right, partially – plenty of reporters break their asses filing stories on little sleep at 2 a.m., only to subject themselves to the blitz the next day. But for every red-eyed reporter there are two glassy-eyed gamers, doing what comes as second, or first, nature – consuming. Gulping down information. Swallowing images and videos and blurbs wholesale, not bothering to digest.

Protesting consumerism and materialism at E3 may be like bitching about the humidity in Rapture, but I look at this from a practical perspective. As someone who follows gaming news, E3 is too much, too fast. Within a day, several major projects are announced, trailers posted and stories filed for each. In the din of big-budget, big-breasted AAA titles, smaller projects get not only overlooked but overwhelmed.

While gamers are a perceptive bunch – meme enthusiasm and viral hype helped catapault Portal, Braid and Audiosurf into stardom – it’s possible that the media storm of E3 deadens our senses to the indie sphere. They have their own conferences, sure, but nothing projects like thousands of gamers – thousands of wallets – under one roof.

This year, E3 is reopening the gates to the plebes. For a few years, they experimented with a professional format, admitting industry members and journalists only. This produced “outcry,” and exhibition officials decided to leave the door unlocked for the gaming public. Now, publishers are catering not only to journalists, but consumers, too. Is this a trade show or a three-day sales pitch? As Charge Shot!!! braces for its first E3 (from a minimum safe distance, of course), we invite you to join us in sorting through the din. Email us at, and tell us what we, or the media at large, are missing.